We live in a material age where items are being pushed at us left and right by both corporations and consumers so its not surprising that we are left with so many useless items. While it is likely you are not in the position to star on MTV’s Hoarders, I am sure you have felt overwhelmed about where to put all your things. Even more likely, you’ve found a top at the bottom of your drawer you forgot you owned. I read once that we don’t wear 25% of the items in our closet. Maybe that could be true for some, but I would argue my percentage is way higher. Seriously take a good look in your closet right now and tell me that you don’t think your percentage is higher. We are all guilty of holding onto items for the chance they will convenience us sometime in the future. I had a formal dress I wore to my brother’s bar mitzvah eight years ago hanging and untouched since the event. Yet, somehow, I was compelled to hold onto it. I made excuses like “I’ll wear it to friends weddings,” or “maybe this is the year I’ll go to a Mardi Gras Ball.” (Spoiler: its no longer there). While this dress took up little space in my closet there are at least a dozen similar objects I made excuses for. For me, the end result of having all these things is anxiety. Maybe I am alone in feeling anxious about the weight of my objects, but if in the slight chance I’m not, I might have just found a solution- minimalism.
Minimalism is a change of mindset to reevaluate the objects we let into our space and find gratitude in the ones we choose to keep. I first learned about this movement last summer when amazon showed me a free book on minimalism in my explore page. I downloaded it, because who doesn’t love free things, and finished the book in one sitting. I was hooked to this concept of how having so little brings you more happiness; it was saying everything against what we were raised to believe. I watched hours of documentaries, and read many books until I felt like I had the starting tools to incorporate minimalism into my lifestyle.
There are many different levels to minimalism. The highest level is very strict and often a little too extreme for some while the lowest level is more relaxed. The real “leaders” of this practice often have little household furniture such as a mattress pad that doubles as a couch by day. Like just take a second to think about your room spotless with nothing but a mattress and some sheets. This thought is almost impossible for me to imagine but this is the way the extremists live. I was instantly fascinated in understanding how this lifestyle can possibly make someone’s life easier and happier. In the middle of the spectrum are people like the stars of the documentary Minimalismon Netflix. They have basic furniture, basic home items, a simplified closet, and can definitely fit all the items they own onto a small piece of paper. On the most lenient side are people like Marie Kondo who looks at minimalism as a mental practice instead of just physical. For her having tons of items isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as you purposely chose to keep those items in your life. Her practices also incorporate Japanese folding methods and storage. Basically her outlook on minimalism is very realistic for each and every person who doesn’t know where to start. Her side of the spectrum is closer to where I’ve fallen in my practice and mindset with minimalizing.
Now enough talk its time to get to work! Here are my 9 simple steps to invite change into your life.
- Invite a friend or family member to help you. Sometimes having an outside perspective can be useful in realizing an items worth, or lack of. It can also make this process more fun and social. (i.e. cue the fashion show for your bestie).
- Minimalize by item category and/ or area of the house. Starting and finishing each area before moving onto the next will help you feel more accomplished and also help keep your space clean.
- Start with an area you’ll be the most decisive. For me this was going through paperwork I had been holding onto. For you it may be your shoes, the laundry room, everyone is different. Starting small and easy will give you the confidence to tackle the harder areas when you get to them instead of giving up by starting with those first.
- Put all the items of that category out onto your bed or a table. Sometimes seeing the amount of items you have will motivate you to get rid of some and also help you realize that you don’t need most of it!
- Sort the items into three categories: yes (keep), no and maybe. Usually you will have the most items in yes and maybe. That’s okay, the maybe pile is where you’ll be able to see change.
- When going through the items ask yourself, have I used this in the last month? The last year? When do I see myself using it next? Do I feel good when I wear it/ look at it? Does it bring up bad memories? If you are asking these questions and you are still on the fence about keeping it ask yourself, will I miss this? (usually I’ve found I completely forget I used to have it). If you are really unsure that’s totally okay. In this situation I usually put it in a designated maybe bin in my closet. If I don’t think to use the item in the next month and it stays in the bin then its time for it to go. If you remember to take it out and decide to wear it/ use it then might be best to hold onto. Getting into a routine of checking it on the first of every month has been a great method for me.
- The yes items should be reorganized into the area in a way that is tidy and aesthetically pleasing. Taking the time to place your items in an organized fashion will help you realize their value and get more use out of them if organized correctly. For example, if it’s summer I may store all my winter clothes away so that they aren’t competing for closet space for the items I’m using now. Cube cloth bins have been a great way for me to organize my workout clothes and accessories in an tucked away manner and a shoe rack has given me the ability to optimize my closet space/ see all my shoes at once.
- The no pile should now be organized into three new piles: trash, donate, sell. This step is a tricky one so please read it all the way through. My take on minimalism is unique in the sense I tend to incorporate a lot of sustainability into my process. I think its important to try and find new homes for items to make sure they don’t just end up in landfills. The only items worth throwing away are items like underwear and bras. Paper can be recycled and even items with holes and heavy wear can still be turned into something new. Hey, one mans trash is another mans treasure. The donating pile should be items that you don’t think hold a lot of monetary value. Lastly, the sell pile. The sell pile’s goal is to better your life. Remember that. You aren’t bettering your life if you don’t have the storage room for items you’re selling on apps like Ebay and Poshmark. If you have the space for these items and they are totally out of sight then this might be a good option for you. I have made thousands of dollars on Poshmark alone, but I am really smart about storing. For example, I keep items in a storage bench, under bed bins or suitcases I won’t need to access for a while. If this doesn’t seem like a good option for your life or you simply don’t have the time there are a few companies that will buy the items for you or hold onto them until they sell. For higher priced items I recommend the Real Real and for cheaper items I recommend stores like Buffalo Exchange or Plato’s Closet. You probably won’t get as much as Poshmark but it is still something. Again the goal of selling is to better your life and sometimes money doesn’t always help with that. One other positive to selling instead of donating is that it allows the items to find a new home it will actually be used at. Donating does not guarantee that the item will find a new home, some of it ends up in landfills.
- Repeat steps 1-8 on a routine basis. For me I do this about once a month or seasonally depending on how I feel. With minimalism it is rare that you can drastically change your lifestyle in a day. Repeating these steps constantly, will slowly transition your life into a life you want. As time goes on I am constantly asking myself if the items I still have make me happier and the objects in my life get fewer and fewer.
Some things to note:
Everything can be replaced (physically and emotionally). While there are some items that seem irreplaceable like a family heirloom, or in my situation my mother’s artwork, I have realized that worrying about this item not being in my life is totally against the purpose of it being in my life in the first place. Which is, to make my life better. Sure items with value can be missed but letting it affect you too much does absolutely nothing for you. Items should be there to bring you joy and not stress you out. Be happy to have the items you have now or be thankful to have had the items you’ve lost. Items that hold less emotional value but mostly physical value, like an expensive sweater you aren’t sure you should keep, can be easily replaced. Sure it might not be the same sweater but if you are on the fence about keeping it, I can promise you you can kind a new sweater that you’d be positive you want to keep. Totally replaceable, don’t let the monetary value of an item pressure you into keeping it.
Only keep items you could use on a daily basis. While I have a few exceptions to this, I have found this extremely helpful with my makeup drawer. I used to get all the makeup subscription boxes and was an avid YouTube makeup watcher who would buy the latest and greatest so over the years I had accumulated a bunch of makeup. Most of it I used once or on a special occasion and it was just taking up space in my drawer. This summer I made sure to keep only the items I used regularly (meaning daytime and nighttime looks) and have found that getting ready is so much quicker with less clutter but also more relaxing. I take everything out of my drawer and as I use it I place it back into my drawer. It has also allowed for a nice morning routine that I didn’t have before with all the clutter. My personal exceptions to rule are items like nicer heels, dresses, purses and items along these lines. You should still ask yourself if it is something you’ll wear in the future, if its not and if you can’t think of a specific event, it may be time to get rid of this item (think wedding dress, prom dress etc.).
Overall this process has been extremely rewarding because my physical space is more inviting and simple but it has also changed the way I see material objects. I appreciate what I own more, I find myself buying less, and feel a lot of anxiety toward materialism lifted off my shoulders. Overall practicing minimalism is nothing short of life changing. Your mentality changes as well as the physical space around you.